[00:01:42] Mike Ogle:
So Michael, we’re happy to have you with us today on the supply chain careers podcast. Welcome.
[00:01:47] Michael Meeth:
Yeah, thank you for having me.
[00:01:48] Mike Ogle:
So how did you get started in supply chain? What events or people tended to influence you the most?
[00:01:54] Michael Meeth:
Yeah. So, I would go back to the beginning of my life, really. My mother and my father, my mother was a grocery store worker and my father worked in a factory. So, come from some humble beginnings too. And they took the initiative to get their college degrees while I was very young. And I saw how they elevated their lives and my life around that too. So as I was coming out of high school and looking for college and picking my major, I really focused in on something that I would be able to really turn into a career. During that time that I was exploring what I was gonna do, I had a lot of different options and I went to different major fairs and things like that, talked to school advisors. And, I had one particular moment that really influenced me. I was standing outside of the advisor office in Western Michigan, and I met Sime, who was at the time, the program manager for the ISM program
. And he had a five-minute conversation with me. Just told me what supply chain was all about, why it was valuable to companies, why it was going to be one of the biggest upcoming and growing professions out there too. And he really convinced me. That was somebody who specifically impacted me.
And as I got into school, it really kind of flourished from there too. There’s a tremendous amount of demand. I got a couple internships on my belt, got into a great company and into a leadership development program. And, I guess the rest is history for me.
[00:03:17] Rodney Apple:
So Michael, that’s fascinating. So, one person in a conversation in the hallway had that big of an impact, and that at least opened that crack to the door that got your interest level peaked. And then you set forth on a education and career in supply chain. So I’d love to hear those kind of stories. And on that note, you touched on this a little bit. You mentioned, you started out, you had some internships, but you landed a leadership development program. Love to hear a little bit more about that and how it helped prepare you for for the future transitions you’ve had in your career. And then up to where you’re at now.
[00:03:51] Michael Meeth:
Yeah. I think it was very intentional. I picked the leadership development program at Whirlpool Corporation because of past experiences that I’ve had, I’ve heard from other people. And really what that did for me is it laid a strong foundation. Supply chain is a massively big topic in a massively big scope. So these leadership development programs, they provide students with a lot of insight into the different aspects too. So I had the opportunity to work in planning and logistics. So I was managing finished goods in a distribution network across North America. I had the opportunity to work in the world’s largest washing machine factory as a lean engineer. And I had the opportunity to work in procurement as a buyer for plastics as well, too. So throughout that journey, I got a lot of insight into different viewpoints from the supply chain. So having, for example, the manufacturing experience early on, it really embedded in me that when I was in my procurement role, that they were my customer. Right. So all the requirements of things that may seem small, like packaging or how many parts come in a box or the way that they’re presented. The quality, everything else. It became very apparent, how impactful those things could be in a high-speed manufacturing process too.
So I think it laid a very strong foundation. And it allowed me to really launch my career from there too. The other thing from a personal perspective, is it allowed me to dip my toes into the pool in different areas and really learn where I wanted to be too. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that my skill set and my interest best lined up with procurement too. So I had the opportunity to continue that in my career, as I grew.
[00:05:25] Rodney Apple:
Thank you. Yeah, those are great programs. And you just, I like your phrase, dipping your toes in the supply chain water, and you figure out where your interest and passions lie and, looks like you have chosen sourcing and procurement and that’s a hot area to be in these days. So kudos to you for figuring that out early, because a lot of people, it takes a while and mistakes, and learnings to figure out exactly where they want to be. And some people, unfortunately don’t figure that out until later in their career. So that’s good.
[00:05:52] Michael Meeth:
I would go back to the five-minute conversation I had with Sime, just his energy and he kinda looks at his job in a way of my job is to get you a job. And he had an intro supply chain class that I took and very much the same thing. He stood up front and he didn’t make us buy a book. He printed out a bunch of articles, laid ’em all across the table and he spent the whole two hour block just talking to us about how to get a job in supply chain. And what are the different things you can do in supply chain and what do companies value and why is supply chain strategic? Why is it something that companies are gonna continue to invest in, in the future? And that really resonated with me big time. So super, super impactful. And a lot of that advice came from him. Pursue a leadership development program if you don’t know where you want to go. I can trace some of the decisions I made early on in my career to advice that I got from him and other professors at Western.
[00:06:37] Mike Ogle:
Yeah. That’s excellent. With that career path getting into a couple of major manufacturers. And then you get to a point where you’ve been outta school for about 10 years. And you look back a little bit, can you tell us what kind of changes that you’ve seen that have happened in the supply chain profession during that time?
[00:06:56] Michael Meeth:
Yeah, it’s almost been 360, I would say. And what I mean by that is when I was coming out of school, the big thing was the world is flat, globalization. A lot of companies were outsourcing to China and other low cost countries. Those were like the buzzwords at the time. Since then, I think a lot of things in the world have changed, obviously, too. We had COVID happen. We’ve had some intense, deflationary pressures and now inflation. We’ve had tariffs and impact of trade and things like that that have really changed things a lot. So what I see now is a more holistic view and I see a lot of push towards localization rather than globalization. And a lot more maybe thoughtfulness that’s going behind the strategy where you may have, for example, a localized supply base with maybe an international disruptor that comes in too.
So I’ve seen, just overall procurement and supply chain strategy elevate in a significant level too. And I think we’ve all felt the pains from COVID. Every manufacturer out there really, is in a very, probably still in a very challenging position, just trying to keep up with parts. And I think the importance of supply chain is now understood at the CEO level. You hear these things being talked about in quarter learnings reports where 10 years ago, that was typically not the case in my experience too. So I just think it’s become more integrated. It’s become more strategic. I think people are looking at it more holistically now as well.
[00:08:21] Rodney Apple:
Yeah. Michael, if you are to take those these 10 years of professional work experience, and if you had an opportunity to go back into your Alma mater, any learnings that you would apply in terms of making some edits or changes to their coursework. And if so, what would that look like in terms of competencies or hard skills, soft skills that they should incorporate into their curriculum to better prepare supply chain students for the careers of today?
[00:08:50] Michael Meeth:
The things that were the most impactful for me in school were some of the real-world experiences too. So Western for example, they had a program where you could partner with local companies, you can actually get out there and do things. I think one of the biggest learnings that I had translating from the classroom to the workplace was it’s very hard to conceptualize supply chain, unless you’re just out there doing it. So I would say more of those type of experiences where you can be hands on are very important. And I think the other thing that I see is communication. I think hard skills are maybe overvalued a little bit in education. I think that you can learn these things. Every company is gonna have a different way of doing things and you’re gonna have to learn that stuff when you jump into a company anyway. I think in essence, supply chain is just a giant communication network, and I think the more effectively you can communicate, the more effective your supply chain is gonna be too. So, I think, more focus on soft skills actually in universities would actually go a long way.
Great things that are being taught there. I think accounting and finance, all the basic fundamentals of business are all there. Engineering fundamentals, negotiation, those things need to stay there. ERP systems and how they work. You wanna learn those things. You wanna learn how to analyze data, but I think, things like change management, those are critical skills that project management, and real-world experience, getting out and seeing manufacturing. I think the first time I walked into a manufacturing, a major manufacturing plant was at Whirlpool when I’d already started my career too. So, I think getting those experiences for students will go a long way. Cuz then you can start to connect the dots from the textbook to the real world.
[00:10:29] Rodney Apple:
Good. Good stuff. Yeah. It’s important to connect those dots, especially in supply chain, that it really touches about every area of a business when you think about the functions and then externally with suppliers through through your customer base.
[00:10:41] Michael Meeth:
Yeah. I mean, it’s just people, that’s the way I look at it. Right. And it’s international people. So it’s understanding cultures, understanding people, understanding how to communicate with them, how to drive performance, how to give feedbacks, how to understand people’s perceptions and understand their motivations and really get the most out of them and be the most efficient as possible.
[00:11:00] Mike Ogle:
And I think that rolls right into the next question that we have in trying to understand, as you’re working both externally and internally with such a wide range of people and the communications, what have you learned about how internal teams tend to work best? And what have you learned about how to work with some of those external suppliers and teams, whether they’re customers or partners?
[00:11:24] Michael Meeth:
I’ll talk about internal people first, too. I think the number one thing, and this is probably for leadership within organizations is just ensuring that goals and metrics are aligned. And if that doesn’t happen, then there can be a lot of disruption or maybe work that’s not valuable. One example I’ll give of that is around cost savings. I’ve seen things where organizations have driven cost savings to be tracked separately between engineering and procurement functions. It’s a very common thing that’s out there too. And that’s a really good example of maybe a metric with a good intention that’s created the wrong behavior, where you end up with competing factors and it’s almost anti collaborative in a way too. So I think that’s really important.
The other thing that I’ll say is building relationships with your peers and your cross-functional partners is also very, very important. When there’s a strong relationship and a strong team in place, then the results tend to be much more effective and much more valuable. I think when you’re working with people internally, too, it’s always really important to explain the why we’re doing things as well, too. A lot of times people have competing objectives and sometimes they’re not able to prioritize your time. So the understanding this is why we’re doing it, this is why it’s important. Getting that alignment up front is very important.
The world’s changing from a communication perspective as well too. I think email is one of the most ineffective communication tools that’s out there too. And I think there’s a lot of other tools that can be taken advantage of that, that make communication much more streamlined too. These are things like JIRA is a great example where there’s actually software that can track specific issues and tag people and follow up. And it’s just much more streamlined. I also think we live in a world of too many meetings, especially with COVID and work from home. I think wherever we can avoid that, it’s better, and if we do have to have a meeting, we should limit it to less than five to 10, to 10 at the most, we don’t need to have big meetings with 30, 40 people in it. It’s just not an effective use of people’s time. The other thing is looking for the path of least resistance. So if you have initiatives, look for alignment. The biggest inefficiencies that I see in organizations come between departments, between functions, and really trying to understand where can we align on our goals. It really makes a big difference too. The last thing I’ll say too, is, it’s very easy to forget about success as well when you’re in the corporate environment, especially in supply chain, cuz you’re onto the next fire. You gotta take time to celebrate wins and recognize people for accomplishments. I think that covers the internal perspective.
I think from an external perspective, a lot of the things are the same. What I’ll say is working with suppliers. I think one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is to have alignment from the top down. So, having these conversations at a strategic level, with CEOs and vice presidents of these companies too, to make sure that those things are there too. It’s also very important to just clearly outline expectations and requirements, especially if you’re at the beginning of a relationship, get all that stuff out there upfront. Make sure there’s alignment. And I think it’s easy as a big OEM to not listen to a supplier and hear their concerns. I think that’s very important that you show that there’s a willingness to listen and help with maybe issues that don’t benefit my company. I think there’s also a tremendous opportunity to look for win-win type solutions, where It’s not, I take from you or you take from me, it’s more of a collaborative approach and that can get difficult sometimes, especially in challenging situations too.
Beyond that, I think again, I’ll go back to communication. I just think taking copious notes, following up on actions, holding yourself accountable and also holding other people accountable. Some people that I’ve learned from throughout my career, they’ve done those type of things and I’ve seen the impact of that. I dunno how many times I’ve been in the meeting one week and then had another meeting the next week and the status was the same. And that’s really frustrating. And I’ve seen a lot of different approaches and I think the best one is just, you gotta be methodical. You just have to capture those action items and follow up. Again, I think the last thing is celebrate your wins. Especially with external partners, recognize suppliers for good performance. Most of the time I’m having conversations with suppliers about an issue, something’s not on time. The quality’s not there. The performance needs to be improved. You have to be intentional to I’d say recognize the good and that’s hard to do sometimes.
[00:15:55] Mike Ogle:
I’ve got a small follow up. When you talk about the aspect of being able to have your objectives and goals, have alignment on those types of things and metrics, that clearly lay out what you’re trying to get your greatest achievements out of. Have you ever had a particular situation, of course, no names, no companies, however we can do this, where you’ve had significant drift in those kinds of things and how it was managed. I’m just curious if there’s a situation you can think of where you had this challenge, where there was significant drift in how those things were defined from the beginning.
[00:16:32] Michael Meeth:
You’re saying from like the beginning, the onset of a project, to the end of it and how things have changed. I think the biggest example that, this not company specific, but different strategies around how launches happen. I think one thing that I see is a need to be realistic about the expectations and the dates that we put out there. The goals need to be achievable. There’s kind of different schools of thought on this, right. I’m trying to not be specific here, but I think that’s something that happens a lot. You see a lot of timelines push out and that can be challenging. And I’m actually torn on the philosophy behind it. I think if you put a date out there that’s very aggressive that it’s gonna drive the right behavior. It’s gonna make people be creative. It’s gonna make them come up with interesting solutions. I think on the flip side it can be frustrating and stressful and, maybe a bit counterintuitive, like how are we gonna do this? And that’s kind of an interesting thing. It’s probably something that I’m still wrestling with in my mind, what the impact of that is too. That’s one thing for sure.
I’ll also share a positive story too. I’ve seen. Like the example that I was giving earlier about how cost saving is tracked between organizations. I’ve seen that feedback be shared for a long time. And I’ve seen leadership actually listening to the people and I’ve seen them taking action and I’ve seen them actually changing metrics and I’ve seen the impact of that. And when that happened, what I saw was immediately like a much more collaborative environment. Where now we, instead of working against each other for projects, we’re actually working together and the overall size of the pie is now bigger, and we’re able to take an idea and 10X it by working together more effectively too.
Coming outta school, I had some expectations that a lot of corporations have everything figured out, right. And they’re very efficient and it’s gonna be very difficult to make an impact. And as I got in and I started doing my work, the light bulb started clicking on and I realized like, Hey, this really doesn’t make sense. Why are we doing this? It’s creating a tremendous amount of inefficiency and everybody’s frustrated by it. And I think that’s what leadership is, when you find those opportunities, there’s a reason for why it’s there and you knock down those obstacles and you really create those pathways to communicate across functions and to be more effective and to be more efficient. And that’s been good.
[BREAK at 18:47]
[00:19:13] Rodney Apple:
So, Michael, you shared some great perspectives and insights today. And, I would love to hear from your vantage point, when you think about professional development, what are some of the key, either programs or activities that supply chain professionals should participate in, to really advance their career, accelerate, hitting their goals and so forth. Mentorship is one that we commonly talk about, building out and nurturing a solid network is another one. But what’s your thoughts on that?
[00:19:41] Michael Meeth:
In my career, mentorship has been very impactful. I think looking to people that are experienced and have a lot of insight and are willing to share, that has been very impactful for me. And some things that I would say there would be, mentor mentee relationships that I’ve had that are successful are really more organic. There’s a lot of times where there might be like a formal program at a company where you get partnered with somebody and there’s some kind of matching process. That hasn’t been as effective for me. I look for mentors around me every day. It doesn’t even have to be in the company. It could just be somebody that says something that resonated with me. I think once you have that moment where you feel that reaching out to them, and actually asking, right. And then taking the time to maintain and grow that relationship is really important. It’s something that needs to be prioritized as well, too. I think it’s really easy to forget to schedule the meeting or to skip a month. And it’s something that really is valuable.
The other thing too, is I, as a mentee, that the experience is very valuable for the mentor as well. They learn things from you. So, I think looking for people from diverse backgrounds, with diverse perspectives outside of maybe the function that you’re working in, it shouldn’t be a tool where you want your mentor to speak for you behind the scenes. It should be more like something that I’m gonna learn from and use to grow. The other thing too, is just finding somebody that you can be authentic with. It’s really important where you can speak plainly about what may be frustrating you or what may be motivating you or, what you’re really feeling. That’s really important too.
The other thing that I’ve found to be very helpful is just LinkedIn in general, just look out to what other people are doing, build your network there. Don’t be afraid to reach out to somebody that might be working as on something interesting because they posted an article about that and talked to them about it. You might be surprised about what you learn. Beyond that I’ve found a lot of value in employee resource groups that companies do. So this is not specifically focused on your career, but get involved in things you’re passionate in, or maybe something you’re just interested in.
I’ve had the opportunity to learn how to build a house through Habitat for Humanity. That’s been an extraordinary experience for me. I’ve gotten involved with different networks along the way as well, too. Just learning about people, meeting new people. And I think that’s very impactful. There’s this tremendous amount of resources out there too. And I think you, you have to kind of find what works for you? What matches your communication style? And I think if something doesn’t feel right and it’s not working, then you can’t be afraid to just move on.
[00:22:12] Rodney Apple:
What about the alumni network, do you find benefits from staying in touch with those that have graduated from the university? Did they have anything formally structured?
[00:22:22] Michael Meeth:
I don’t take advantage of anything formal within the network of the university, but I’d say Western and Western supply chain in particular did a very good job of creating this sense of community, this sense of like we’re on a team, this sense of I’m very proud that I came from Western. I’m very proud when I see like the Gartner rankings come out and see Western climb up the list, especially when it’s being compared next to big universities, with big names. And I know that’s also something Sime is very proud of too. I think that creates this sense of community too, where it doesn’t have to be formal, like anytime that I see somebody else from Western posting something on LinkedIn of a new job, I’m gonna reach out and celebrate with them.
They even have this thing. And I actually don’t know if I still have mine, but they gave us all coins when we graduated, too. And if we ever run into another Western supply chain person, you’re supposed to call ’em out. And if they don’t have their coin, they’re gonna buy you a drink. So, there’s that kind of community that’s built there too. So, I think that’s been really helpful. The other thing that I love doing is I love going back to campus. And recruiting. I had the opportunity to do that a lot with Whirlpool. And I’d like to do that in the future with Tesla as well. We actually have an intern from Western that’s gonna start in the fall. So I’m very excited about that. And I think that’s been my way of giving back, because I was very grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had and just going there and having the time to kind of network with students. I also get to see previous students that I used to work with too, and they’re working for their various companies and they come back and they’re at the Western ISM night as well too. And that’s really nice to see. I find it tremendously valuable too.
[00:23:52] Mike Ogle:
And you had mentioned internships, and having one that’s coming in and looking forward to being able to do that. Can you tell us a little bit about your own internship experience and the kinds of things that you learned from it, for instance, and how you would advise others to be able to conduct their own internships?
[00:24:11] Michael Meeth:
The biggest challenge around internships is getting the first one. You have to be resilient and you have to be brave. I remember the first time I walked into a career fair. I walked in, and I walked around the room and then I walked out and went home and I didn’t talk to anyone cause I was just full of anxiety. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have a plan. And I think I was a freshman at the time too. And, I felt bad about that. And I think I talked to somebody about it and they gave me the advice to just get up and do it again next semester. And I did, and I probably interviewed three or four times and got rejected, and I went through that cycle and it was tough to hear feedback and feel like I’m not there, or I’m not gonna make it, and then eventually, I broke through and I was able to get a co-op at American Axle for a couple years. I was working on the plant floor and I was working in the maintenance department and it wasn’t the sexy supply chain internship that I might have wanted in my head, but it was also a very valuable experience too. I got to learn how to work with people in a high paced, difficult, dynamic environment. And that was enough to really springboard into my next position too. So I kept at it. I kept going back. I kept talking to the same companies that I was interested in. And they noticed that, right. They like, oh, we remember you from last semester, and they would interview me again. And eventually I got into Whirlpool, which to me, that was like my dream at the time. As far as the goals that I set for myself that was at the top. I didn’t really necessarily think I could go beyond that. And then I had that opportunity to join Whirlpool and I think one thing that they did very well is they matched me with the leader that was very much dedicated to my development. He gave me the resources and the time and the advice that I needed and the right projects too. And I really flourished there.
It’s extremely valuable and I think I would tell a student all day long to prioritize an internship experience over a class, for example, they have to finish their degree, but like that experience that you get in the workplace is so valuable. Universities understand that and they very much encourage people and they very much give them the tools that they need to seek and find those things too. And the advice that I would give people out there is take whatever opportunity that you can find to begin with too. And you’re gonna build from there. No company’s too small, no internship is too little. If it’s an opportunity that’s in front of you take it.
[00:26:29] Mike Ogle:
You’ve mentioned a couple of times about the leadership program that you had at Whirlpool and we talked about internships. We talked about mentorship side of things. I’m curious about the leadership program side, cuz we’re gonna have a leadership series that’s coming out with our third partner one of our co-hosts, Chris Gaffney, a guy that used to work at Coca-Cola for a long time as an exec. You went through a leadership program and it was highly valuable and you had somebody that almost acted for you as you had just mentioned, almost like a, not a assigned mentor, but almost like a Sherpa, coach, a combination of a variety of different aspects. But to try to get you through that leadership journey to understand how to advance your career. Whether it was with the company or your career, throughout life. Are there some specific points that you could say were highly valuable in that leadership experience and things that kind of surprised you of where it took you?
[00:27:26] Michael Meeth:
One of the most impactful things for me was getting into the manufacturing environment, being on the floor and getting a team of hourly people that reported to me. I had eight people that reported to me and they were responsible for building and doing all the layouts for the part racks and part presentation for the lines. Having that experience was definitely more valuable than probably anything else from a leadership perspective, I was dealing with all of the issues. And development right from a very young age. And I think that was very good. And I had support of the people that were leading me as well to give me advice and to do these things too. I learned a lot. The other thing that I would say too, is with that leadership development program I had a tremendous amount of different trainings and things like that because one thing that Whirlpool did is they used the leadership development program as a testing ground and a proving ground for maybe new trainings that they were looking to do with the organization. So, we were kind of Guinea pigs in a little way, too. So I had the opportunity to do like presence and communications training, corporate athlete training, All sorts of different things along the way, too. And it was very intentional and I think it opened up those doors for me. And I think just the perception of being in a leadership development program gave me enough confidence and courage to just put myself in front of people. I was not afraid to reach out to a vice president and set up a one-on-one conversation, just to learn. And I think one piece of advice that I give students is most people are very receptive to that. It might be very scary. Like I’m gonna send an email to somebody three or four levels above me.
You’d be surprised on how they respond. And the same goes externally too. If you see something out there that interests you, you miss 100% of those shots you don’t take. So you might as well reach out and do that. And I would say in general, people are very motivated to see you succeed.
In general, I find myself as a leader, too, being more motivated by other people, by uplifting other people and teaching them things and seeing them thrive than I do myself sometimes, and that’s something that I’ve inherited and I’ve seen from other people as well.
[00:29:27] Rodney Apple:
Well, Michael, you’ve shared some great insights today and especially some great advice, but as we close this out, we’d love to hear, if you reflect back on your career or even back into academia, what would you consider an example of the best advice you’ve received to date? And is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience as well?
[00:29:47] Michael Meeth:
The biggest advice that people have gave me is just to show that I can be confident in myself. So I think you need to be brave. You need to go out there and take on projects that might sound scary, or you might not understand how to achieve a result. Maybe go into an area that is notoriously difficult and I would encourage people to do that as they’re developing their careers.
The other thing that I think is really important in supply chain is how to manage the stress of it all too, because there’s a lot of stuff that happens, right? There’s a lot of pressure sometimes to keep lines running or to solve a problem. Maintaining your work life balance is super important. And also understanding that the reason that we have jobs is to solve these problems. So don’t let the problem stress you out. The other thing is to look for the path of least resistance. Look for creative solutions, look for win-win solutions. Don’t spend weeks pounding your head against the wall if something’s not moving forward, take a step back and really try to look at it from a high level and come up with maybe a different approach. I think that makes a big difference.
The other thing that I’ll say too is, and especially for younger people, people that come from diverse backgrounds, people that maybe aren’t the typical supply chain professional too. Cause one thing that I see, and this is a good thing, is I see more diversity coming in. I see more women coming into supply chain and I think it’s easy to be a bit intimidated in certain environments too. So I think you have to challenge the status quo often too. There’s been a way of the world that things have been done like this for a long time. There’s a new generation coming in. I think we have a lot of great ideas on how to do things differently and I think people need to find their voice and they just need to speak up. There’s a lot of ideas out there that can make a big impact.
And one other piece of advice that I’ll say to is if you feel like you’re not moving forward, you’re undervalued or you’re unfulfilled, then move on. I think it’s important that people understand the relationship between the corporation and the employee and the individual. And they take advantage of those opportunities when they present themself too. So I’d say always be exploring, always be networking, always be learning. If you would’ve asked me 10 years ago if I would’ve been working for Tesla, if I would’ve had the opportunity to travel all around the world, meeting with different suppliers, I would’ve thought you were crazy. I’d say never set your goals too low. You can always reach for the stars and there’s always room to grow.
[00:32:10] Rodney Apple:
Thank you. Very good. Always reach for the stars. That’s a good one.
[00:32:14] Mike Ogle:
Michael, thank you for a great conversation and your insights about supply chain careers.
[00:32:18] Michael Meeth:
Mike and Rodney, thank you for having me. It was a great opportunity and I look forward to listening to future episodes.